The Prayer of Dreams
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The Author

Shawn is a twice widowed mom of two strange and wonderful daughters: Roise, 16, and Maire, 21. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite with the Austin OCDS Community of St. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, and a proud member of her home Bible study, the Pontifical Biblical Institute of the Holy Hippie Sisterhood. Shawn works as a private care-giver, and is a Catholic columnist for the Bryan-College Station Eagle newspaper. Her household, St. Anne's, includes dogs, cats, chickens, and a mopey teenager. Shawn promises she does take life seriously from time to time, and is hoping, by God's grace, to ascend Mt. Carmel, scattering many rose petals along the way just for fun. She does not ordinarily wear shoes. Who needs shoes?

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“I was asleep but my heart was awake. A voice! My beloved was knocking: ‘Open to me!” (Song of Songs 5:2a)

 

Have you ever had a dream that seemed to be from God, one that helped you understand something about yourself, reassured you He was there, or helped you know His will for you?

Maybe you have had a redirecting sort of dream, or one that changed your life. Many people have had dreams  in which they seemed to talk to someone they loved who had died, or , more rarely, a dream about something that was about to happen. It seems that dreams open a door in us that is most often closed.

There are psychological interpretations of dreams, and scientific explanations of dreaming. According to the Scriptures, some dreams can be very important indeed, and are one way God speaks to the human soul.

Dreams are part of the stories of  St. Therese, St. Faustina, St. Monica, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Perpetua and others.  Dreams were an important part of the journeys of several Biblical people, too, like Daniel and Joseph in the Old Testament, and, of course, in the life of St. Joseph, husband of Mary. The three Wise men were also directed by a dreams. Dreams are potentially powerful parts of our own spiritual lives.

Attention to dreams can be a fruitful spiritual practice. Dreams have been powerful messages to me during times I couldn’t understand myself, or what God was doing in my life.  Many dreams have been healing to me, or reassured me of God’s love and presence. Some dreams I have never forgotten though I had them years and years ago, because they were so important to me.

Dreams most often speak in symbols, which is how God tends to speak to humanity. The Church, the Liturgy, the Scriptures, are all overflowing with truths expressed in symbol and metaphor, or in imagery laden language that is closer to poetry and parable than linear narrative or stark information. Dreams have their own precision and logic that is on a different level altogether. Dreams seem to put us in touch with the mysterious reality that Heaven inhabits the human soul and  speaks to her in its’ own preferred language, which is. after all, the soul’s own native tongue.

Sometimes dreams seem to come from that same place of meeting between the earthly and the spiritual as a holy vision would come. A dream can be a door to the timeless, a bridge to the sacred, a mirror of spiritual truth in our lives.

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photo by Shawn Chapman

The late  Episcopalian priest, author and counselor,  Morton T. Kelsey, suggested that there is a “dreamer within,” and that the “Dreamer Within, is none other than the Holy Spirit,” who prays within us, teaches, consoles, inspires, and guides us.

Father Kelsey went so far as to say that when he was working with someone who was having trouble believing in God, his first suggestion was that they  start writing down dreams every day. He said that practice usually helped change a person’s perspective within a few weeks.

There is something uncanny going on, a wisdom being expressed that is beyond our own. One tends to notice that when reading over a series of recorded dreams.

I think it’s less important to “decode” dreams or try to “figure them out” as much as it is important to experience them as a soul who seeks God in all things. We could value our dreams and treat them as potentially valid spiritual experiences meant to help us on our way. To do this we  need to remember them, record them, and pray them.

 

How to Remember Your Dreams:

• Be open to remembering them, want to remember them.

• Keep a pen, a notebook, or your journal beside your bed expectantly. You are more likely to remember dreams this way.

• Be disciplined and write them down while they are still fresh in your mind when you first wake up. Write them down just as you remember them as soon as you can.

How to Practice the Prayer of Dreams:

• If you have had a dream that felt important to you,  a troubling dream,  or a puzzling dream, make time to revisit the dream in prayer.

• Try to replay the dream, perhaps as you write reflectively, in your journal.

• Recreate the scene of the dream. Step into it in your imagination, only this time with an awareness of Jesus at your side.

• Let Jesus show you what He wants you to see. Often doing this is transformative of the dream and even of the person who dreamed it!

  • One of my favorite things to do when I go over a dream prayerfully, is to look for Jesus in the dream. He often has a hidden role among the characters of each dream. When you go through a dream and recognize Him, it can be very meaningful and often it is a surprise. In a dream that was originally upsetting, Jesus turned out to be a crane operator showing me how to operate a crane. The meaning seemed to be that He shared my sorrow and could show me how to carry it with His help.
  • Sometimes God has more to tell us about a dream. We just have to invite Him to tell us what He wants to about it.

• Respond to God about the dream in prayer. You might write this prayer in your journal if you like to pray that way.

• Make good use in your life of any insights that apply.

  • You may want to go back and read the dream sometime when you need it to remember that God is constantly working in your soul, and this will strengthen you again.

I think most dreams have to do with the part of the Interior Castle that St. Teresa of Avila calls, “The Room of Self Knowledge,” and are the Holy Spirit helping us know ourselves better.

There are also dreams that are obviously an experience of the Lord or an angel or a saint, or a visit from someone you love, who has died. It’s easy to see these dreams as powerful gifts from God, messages of love and reassurance of His presence.

Dreams can guide us and point us in the right direction in our lives, or help us grow in trust that God is within us always.

Some dreams seem made to be puzzled and prayed over. Those can be just as life changing as the more numinous kind, and the process of unraveling them seems to be good for us, and our relationship of trust with God. When I have had a puzzling dream, often the Scripture readings at mass will seem to open its’ meaning for me or reinforce its message, or something will happen, or someone will say something that makes clear what God is trying to show me in a dream I have wondered about. So if you’re puzzling over a dream, keep paying attention to what God may be trying to get you to hear in your life. If He is telling you something, He will keep saying it in as many ways as you might hear.

Usually the meaning of the dream, according to my friend, Beth, who is a counselor, is the meaning that makes sense to the dreamer, the meaning that “clicks.” You are the one God gave the dream to and you will know when you have understood, even though wise people,  books and other dream guides can be helpful.

When we write dreams out and pray them, they become a more conscious form of contact with God, and can be helpful for us in our spiritual lives. I sometimes get the impression that the Lord enjoys puzzling over a dream with me, and is glad I came to seek its meaning from Him and show Him I value His communications  in the dreams He sends to me.

It seems to me the Prayer of Dreams is one way we can say, in our sleep, as at any other time, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Dream on, Christian soul.

 All praise to the Holy Spirit, the Dreamer Within.

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photo by Shawn Chapman

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9 Comments
  • Josue VW

    Amen! I love the practicality in the second half. I think what struck me the most was was “…that Heaven inhabits the human soul and speaks to her in its’ own preferred language…”

  • Mark

    “Dreams often speak in symbols, which is how God tends to speak to humanity. The Church, the Liturgy, the Scriptures are all overflowing with truths expressed in symbol and metaphor, or in imagery laden language that is closer to parable than linear language that is closer to parable than linear narrative or stark information.”
    To quote a mentor of mine, James Hollis,” I am not in the flattery business” but this is one of the most beautiful and powerful posts I have read on this site.
    As a therapist, in my own experience, one of the main causes of suffering and a sense of loss in my clients I witness is that they have lost the sense of symbol, meaning and metaphor in this linear society and thus lost a key experience of God and spirit. The power of metaphor and image is immense in our psychic life and in our soul. When we forget that, we lose something immense. And that includes our dream life. It is amazing how many of them are open to this conversation when it is framed this way.
    Dreams are so powerful and meaningful, and for me, they are part of our experience of the Holy Spirit. And yes, they are to be experienced rather than to be explained. There are so many stories in scripture that illustrate that.
    Thanks for sharing this, Shawn. Amen. It was in my work with a therapist and the writings of Carl Jung, Thomas Merton, Morton Kelsey, Gerald May and others that I realized I was a spiritual person living a human life rather than a human who happened to stumble upon spirituality. It was “written in my soul” It is who I am, a core. In forgot that too often, and then I too, suffer. To lose that is to truly lose our Soul. The original definition of psychology is “the study of the soul.”
    This post also highlights how the imagery and metaphor (and this is not opposed to “fact”, at all. It is different. It is “truth”) of Catholicism is so powerful and beautiful and written in our hearts.
    God bless.

    • Shawn Chapman

      Wow, thank you! And thanks for all you do in the work of healing souls and re-teaching them their native tongue! :) <3

  • Julia

    What a great topic, Shawn. Man, the holy spirit keeps you busy!!!!! :)

  • Frank

    What about the dreams where you wake up screaming?

    • Shawn Chapman

      The same process applies!

  • Al Clerc

    God sometimes wakes me with a son, sometimes secular that speaks to me. Recently it was, “You’ll never know just how much I love you”.

  • Al Clerc

    I meant to say “song”.

  • http://lindsayloves.com/ Lindsay

    My friends in undergrad used to call important dreams the Prayer of St. Joseph. When he dreams in Scripture, he gets some pretty critical messages from God! :)

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